What Are the Qualities of a Voice?
Let’s do a test. Describe the voice of someone you know. A narrator or a voice actor, maybe. What about your favorite singer? Your significant other?
The very first adjectives that come to your mind to describe the quality of a voice would most likely be “good” or “bad.” And it’s kind of fair because humans tend to see things as black or white after all. But what about all those characteristics that make a voice unique?
What tiny little details make a voice familiar, aurally appealing, or a complete disaster? Let’s find out.
When listening to someone talking, the first thing you want to describe is how high or low-pitched it is. And usually, deep voices tend to be more attractive to the ears of most people.
In fact, even the music industry has come up with terms to identify how high or low a voice is. In opera, you have sopranos, tenors, baritones, bass, and more. But you’re not an opera singer, right — after all, they usually know the qualities of the voice. However, speaking follows a relatively similar pattern regarding vocal range.
This differentiation between a low or a high voice is the pitch. Some of the factors that contribute to how a voice sounds include anatomy, the vibrations of the vocal cords, and positioning.
Of course, you can change the pitch of the voice. Who can forget Elizabeth Holmes, for example, Theranos’s former CEO, who lowered her voice pitch to appear more powerful?
Tone of Voice
Everyone has a voice identity. A unique fingerprint that makes us all sound like ourselves. This is what we call “tone.” The cool thing about it is that you can play around with it and adjust it depending on what you want to accomplish.
Want to sound more polite? Soften your tone. Friendlier? No problem. Do you want to look more professional in the eyes of your colleagues? Again, play around with your tone to develop a sharper, crisper feel.
Think of a parent when they want to express their love for their child. Their voice sounds softer, more high-pitched, and comes off sweeter. Now, think of the voice of a parent who wants to scold their kid. It’s not the voice that changes, but the tone of it.
However, you might be able to adjust your tone and play with your voice attributes and characteristics, but there are some key elements you can’t change. Those fundamental elements determine what your natural, “resting” voice really is.
Take Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example. He was born with this deep voice of a leader.
The Vocal Fry
To explain vocal fry, we need to mention just one name that has mastered it. Believe it or not, it’s Kim Kardashian West. Being one of the most popular ways that women talk like today, fried sounds are produced based on how the vocal cords vibrate.
Hit play on this video below and listen to that subtle grunge sound while she’s dragging her vowels:
Extensive use of vocal fry is known to have some negative impacts on the voice, but you can try to see how you’d sound if you were a member of the Kardashian family.
Take a deep breath and slowly sigh as you’re lowering your pitch. Try to relax and position your voice at the beginning of your throat while you’re slowing down your exhaling.
This is it. You’ve achieved a vocal fry. From here, you can see how loud you can go and start controlling one of the most common voice qualities.
Often times, it’s not about your voice per se, but about the way you’re using it to express yourself. Rhythm is one of those details that we forget to talk about when we talk about the characteristics of a voice.
Having a good rhythm makes a voice sound much better. And by “good rhythm,” we mean having a smooth flow that is neither too choppy nor too slow.
For example, say, “I’m on the right track.” It should sound like “Am on the rightruck.” By sliding words together or stressing specific letters in a sentence, you will make your voice sound more attractive to the ear.
On the other hand, the staccato rhythm feels more robotic and less natural, which will definitely raise some eyebrows.
A simple exercise to fix your voice’s rhythm is to use your arm as you’re speaking. Start talking and use it to guide your voice’s rhythm and flow. When you want to drag or extend your vowels, move your arm slower.
See how your voice changes and experiment.
At the end of the day, your voice is nothing more than a sound produced by your vocal cords’ vibrations. This is what we call reverberation. But it’s also about where you resonate your voice after it’s produced.
Generally, there are many places where you can position your voice to give a different feeling. There are nasal voices that are positioned in the nasal passages and produce a thin sound. At the same time, some people place their voices in their throat and achieve a deep sound. Find your resonance and change it if you want.
Usually, nasal voices tend to be irritating and annoying, and pop culture has used them a lot to make specific roles less likable. Remember, Janet from “Friends?” She was the perfect example of a 100% nasal voice.
Do you happen to have any friend who speaks so fast that you just can’t keep up? Have you ever had people asking you to slow down because they cannot understand you? This is what voice tempo (or pace) does. It makes a voice sound easy-to-understand or the complete opposite.
Unfortunately, you need to work really hard if you want to change your tempo since this is the way you’ve always been speaking, and you need to force yourself to speak slower or faster before it becomes a habit.
Record yourself and listen to this recording. Don’t freak out; your voice will definitely sound different. See if you can quickly get what you’re saying and whether you need to speed up or slow down your pace. According to the National Center for Voice and Speech, American English speakers use 150 words per minute.
However, the tempo has another important role. It can build up suspense. If you want to narrate a story and add excitement, slowing down and going in circles will help you engage your listeners. But if you want to add different feelings such as anxiety or urgency, you need to talk faster — a common practice among sportscasters.
The tempo is a vital voice quality that helps your listeners determine whether you are easy to follow or not. Use this quality to your advantage.
When we’re talking about texture, we’re talking about how your voice sounds in general. It might be a vague term, but it describes voice qualities that most people don’t know how to phrase.
Texture has to do with thickness, vocal range, and feelings. Play an upbeat song by your favorite artist on Spotify. Pay attention to their voice and how they use it to boost their listeners’ moods. Now, play a ballad by the same artist. Their voice will most likely sound much different — soother, calmer, easier.
This is because all people have a wide range of textures that we all use to express different feelings. You’ve heard about breathy, fruity, flat, or even husky voices. This is what texture is about. These little features that make a voice unique but no one really knows how to describe them.
Not all words are the same. Some fall. Others rise. And others stay flat. Inflection allows speakers to express, not only themselves but also the meaning of each word.
Each sentence is a different journey, and inflections mark the end of it. They deliver emotions, attitudes, feelings, and they emphasize the type of each sentence. Is it a question? An excitement? A bold statement? Inflections get to decide.
The incorrect usage of inflection leads to confusion, making people wonder what the person they're talking to is actually talking about. If, for example, someone adds excitement to a sentence that is meant to be about a serious matter, that would instantly make them less likable and relatable.
If you want to go deeper to your trip on what makes a voice sound unique, there are many other factors to consider. They might not be about the way a voice operates and not really voice qualities. But they’re about the way a person speaks.
For example, articulation doesn’t really make a voice unique, but it makes it sound in a specific way that is hard to imitate. There’s also fluency or even the words someone uses to communicate.
The factors that shape a vocal identity are numerous, and some of them even include psychological triggers and how a voice makes us feel or how familiar we feel with it.
Think of it as a human face or form. It’s not only about how big or small a nose is but also about how we perceive a person’s visual identity.